Vortigern Studies

What's New I Sitemap I Bibliography I Vortigern I Vortigern Studies l Wansdyke I POLLS I LINKS l Sitemaster I FAQs
about Vortigern Studies l Messageboard I Games I Arthurian Collection I View Guestbook I Sign Guestbook l Webrings

  Vortigern Studies > Vortigern > The Realm of Vortigern > Richborough

Vortigern Studies Index



The Realm of Vortigern
click here

The Grave of Vortimer
Robert Vermaat

old maps
click here for
maps of

Roman Coastal Fortress
Good access for the disabledFree access to the monument
Nearest town: Sandwich
Nearest village: Great Stonar
Map reference: TR 325602
Location of Richborough by UK Streetmap

We have a very vague idea of how or where Vortigern died, but his sons's graves are more known to us. Vortimer's grave is securely attached to Kent.

The SourcesThe inner ditches of Richborough

Where was Vortimer buried? We know of several graves for his father Vortigern, a grave for his brother Catigern, but his own is shrouded in conflict. Was he buried in Kent, or in London, or even across several places? The sources are in conflict about this grave of Vortimer. The Historia Brittonum, by far the oldest of them, recalls his original plan to be buried in Richborough (or in Kent at least), which was denied him by his followers:

Historia Brittonum, chapter 44
After a short interval Vortimer died; before his decease, anxious for the future prosperity of his country, he charged his friends to inter his body at the entrance of the Saxon port, viz. upon therock where the Saxons first landed; "for though," said he, "they may inhabit other parts of Britain, yet if you follow my commands, they will never remain in this island." They imprudently disobeyed this last injunction, and neglected to bury him where he had appointed.

Another, different, location is added with a late (c. 1200) gloss in the Historia Brittonum, which continues with:

He was buried in Lincoln. But if they had kept his command, there is no doubt that they would have obtained whatever they wished through the prayers of saint Germanus.


In Lincolnia enim sepultus est. At si mandatum eius tenuissent, proculdubio per orationes sancti Germani quiquid pecierant obtinuissent.

The information that he was buried in Lincoln is unique to this note. The writer of this gloss was not following Geoffrey of Monmouth, who had Vortimer buried in Trinovantum (London):

Historia Regum Britanniae, Book VI, chapter 14
Late Roman Javelin charge by modern reenactors
Hereupon he forthwith ordered all his men to come to him, and having shown them how near he was to his end, distributed among them all the treasure his predecessors had heaped up, and endeavoured to comfort them in their sorrow and lamentation for him, telling them, he was only going the way of all flesh. But he exhorted those brave and warlike young men, who had attended him in all his victories, to persist courageously in the defence of their country against all hostile invasion; and with wonderful greatness of mind, commanded a brazen pyramid to be placed in the port where the Saxons used to land, and his body when dead to be buried on the top of it, that the sight of his tomb might frighten back the barbarians to Germany. For he said none of them would dare approach the country, that should but get a sight of his tomb. Such was the admirable bravery of this great man, who, as he had been a terror to them while living, endeavoured to be no less so when dead. Notwithstanding which, he was no sooner dead, than the Britons had no regard to his orders, but buried him at London.

The Welsh Triads, which are of much later date than the Historia Brittonum, are not in agreement; though Triad 37 has Vortimer’s bones not only buried in a port, but in all major ports of Britain. Triad 37R confirms this, but adds to the evil of his father Vortigern by stating his saxon wife Rowena made him dug them up again:

Three Concealments and Three Disclosures of the Island of Britain:
The second: the Bones of Gwerthefyr the Blessed, which were buried in the Chief Ports of this Island;

Three Fortunate Concealments of the Island of Britain:
And the third: the Bones of Gwerthefyr the Blessed, in the Chief Ports of this Island. And as long as they remained in that concealment, no Saxon Oppression would ever come to this Island.
And they were the Three Unfortunate Disclosures when these were disclosed.
And Gwrtheyrn the Thin disclosed the bones of Gwerthefyr the Blessed for the love of a woman: that was Ronnwen the pagan woman;

This account need not have to be purely legendary, as seems The walls of Rutupiaeto be suggested by the legend of Bran’s head (the same action with the same purpose) in both versions of this Triad. We might be able to think of a real historical fact here, inspired by the old legend! Maybe Vortimer really meant to be buried in the same way as the old Celtic god, thereby recognizing the changing cultural patterns in the mid-fifth century in Britain.

The Legend

Can there be any truth in these stories? Though the Historia Brittonum and its elaboration by Geoffrey seem fanciful, it may be accurate up to a point as well. It is the version of the Triads that make the legendary element clear – this burial-legend is modelled completely on that of Bran the Blessed, son of Llyr. All elements are the same: a body (or parts) buried against an enemy, in the east, and removed later. We might be able to think of a real historical fact here, suggested by the old legend! Maybe Vortimer really meant to be buried in the same way as the old Celtic god, thereby recognising the changing cultural patterns in the mid-fifth century in Britain. The Triad even suggests that Vortigern had a hand in this, knowing later where to search for the bones as he apparently did.

Though I personally don’t think that Vortigern outlived his son (see Duplications) and this part of the Triad was only a small part of a general drive to demonise him, it fitted the generally accepted story at the time. The origin for Vortimer’s story may also have developed late, for it must have taken a while for him to acquire the epithet Bendigeit (‘blessed’), which is the same as that of Bran as well. Bran Bendigeit, Vortimer Bendigeit, who came first, i.e., who influenced who? Bran may be the older legend, but was it therefore the same epithet that led to developing a similar burial for Vortimer? Or was the legend known in the fifth century, leading Vortimer to undertaking a propaganda act to support moral? Stripped of all legendary elements, what remains? Maybe just the burial spot itself.

The Place

The sources are not very clear in establishing the exact spot of Vortimer’s burial spot. The Historia Brittonum clearly points to the spot (‘rock’) that oversees the point where the Saxons first landed. This place was Ebbesfleot (Ebbsfleet), onlWall and ditch of the Saxon Shore forty a few miles away. It is still marked on modern maps as the traditional landing spot of the Saxons in AD 449, and that of St Augustine in AD 597! Geoffrey of Monmouth elaborated on this by calling it the port of the Saxons’ landing, and describing some great monument. Both mention that his orders to be buried there were neglected, Geoffrey mention London as final resting place. However, these traditions are contradicted by the Welsh Triads, which name the main ports (pl.) as burial sites. The Triads name no other place, for it was from the ports that his bones were dug up by the Saxons, after the disclosure of their presence by Vortigern to Rowena.

Which one is right? Were Vortimer’s bones indeed spread throughout several ports? Looking at the other elements of the Triads, we can see that this story resembles very much the legend of Bran, whose head was buried at the White Hill in London to ward off all enemies (until its disclosure by Arthur). The earlier sources have none of these elements, but Geoffrey’s (re-)burial at London may stem from the same legend. All have elected the same spot: confronting the east and Gaul, where the threat was to be expected. I choose to take the (re-)burial less serious, for the origin may be seen as explanatory: the Saxons succeeded, therefore Vortimer had to have been buried elsewhere. The same goes for the ‘disclosure’ by Vortigern: just like Arthur dug up Bran’s head, he removed the protection of Britain in that way – anyway, that was the explanation afterwards.

Richborough today, from the south.The contention of the elected grave is clearly between Richborough and other ports, Richborough confronting Thanet, which is the single contender for the spot of the Adventus Saxonum. It was the first fort of the Romans in Britain since Caesar’s invasion, and it may have been the last as well. Did the Triads really mean all ports of Britain, or just those opposite Gaul? Since the Saxons are the only ones involved in the rest of the legend, a conclusion is possible that it is the Saxon Shore forts that are referred to. Maybe we are looking only for a main port (s.), which could then hardly be any other than Richborough.


The ancient Roman fort of Rutupiae is the backdrop for the Roman history of Britain. In AD 43, this was the site of the first permanent Roman occupation during the invasion of Claudius. Thanet was an island at that time, and Rutupiae was situated on a small peninsula, which extended some way beyond the modern escarpment, where the eastern walls have been carried away by the Stour. After the invasion, Richborough became a supply-base with timber buildings, including granaries. Richborough was the main port of Britain in those days. Later though (c. AD 85), a grand monument was built to signify the occupation of Britain, a clear act of propaganda. Today, only a massive concrete cross is visible where the monument once stood. Most if not all of this monument was levelled, together with the ditches and building, to facilitate the much larger Saxon Shore fort.The Monument, Vortimer's Grave?

Though usually taken to have been built by Carausius (AD 287-293), it has now been suggested that the scheme was started a decade earlier. The Saxon Shore was constructed mainly against a pirate threat against SE Britain, and consists of a series of forts running from to Wash to Portsmouth. The neighbouring fort at Reculver (Regulbium) has been dated even earlier to AD 240. The walls were built ten metres high, with added bastions for protection. Somewhere during the fourth century, a Christian church was built inside the fort, of which a baptismal font is still visible. The fort witnessed the last phase of Roman Britain as well as the first - sometime during the late fourth century, the twentieth Legion was redeployed from Chester to Richborough. In the fifth, it served with the field-army in Gaul.

The Monument

If you come for Vortigern and Vortimer alone, ignore the very visible inner triple ditch, which marks the not original Roman beach-head, but the third-century pre-Saxon Shore fort. In fact, the whole inner court was flattened and heightened when the Saxon Shore fort was erected. The walls of this later third-century coastal fort, though robbed of much of their stones, are very impressive still. Visible today are only the remains of the great four-way arch in the form of a concrete cross. In the later first century though, this was a great four-way arch, surrounded by a precinct wall. The richly adorned monument may have been 30 metres, with bronze statues and sumptuous marble slabs. A marble passage way led to four flights of steps, which led to the monument, meant to impress all visitors.

What did this monument really look like? In fact there is still a monument that will give you an idea of this. It is the Heidentor ('Pagan's Gate') at the Roman town of Carnuntum (Petronell, east of Vienna). This symbol of CThe 'Heidentor' of Carnuntum, Austriaarnuntum reaches now onlyReconstruction of the arch the height of 14 metres, instead of its original 22 (which means it was only two-thirds as tall as the Richborough arch), which it lost even before the 17th century. The monument was once 15 metres across, with four corners, whose pillars measured at least 6 metres in thickness. Only two of the columns remain today, but a podestal still shows that once a statue must have been standing in the middle. As can be seen from the reconstruction drawing, it had a hollow inside, which allowed it to make a massive impression while towering over that statue. The actual builder is unknown, though it is believed that the person honoured was probably Constantius II (AD 337-61), who is known to have erected several triumphal arches. This makes the monument much older than the one at Richborough, but the design may have been traditional.

However, all these riches disappeared at an early age. By the third century, the stripped monument served as a signal tower, inside the triple ditch now visible. It is now believed that the whole tower was levelled when the Saxon Shore fort was built, but is that necessarily true? I believe that there was a remnant still there, a remnant impressive enough to inspire the ‘brazen pyramid’ (Geoffrey) on which Vortimer was to have been buried. No doubt all stones were robbed later, but I think there was enough left there during the fifth century and later to trace ‘Vortimer’s Grave’.


  • Bartrum, P.C. (1993): A Welsh Classical Dictionary, (Cardiff).*
  • Dumville, David N. (1977b): Celtic-Latin texts in northern England, c.1150-1250, in: Celtica 12, pp. 19-49.*
  • Pleyel, Peter (1987): Das Römische Österreich, Fundstätten und Museen, (Verlag Kremayr & Scheriau, Wien).*
  • Wilson, Roger J.A. (1975): A Guide to the Roman Remains in Britain, (London repr. 1996).*

VortigernStudies is copyright © Robert Vermaat 1999-2008. All rights reserved